If you’re visiting Lisbon for more than a weekend, make sure you take a day trip (or two) to Sintra and Cascais. In fact, you definitely need a whole day in Sintra if you want to visit all the sites so don’t make the mistake we did by doing both Sintra and Cascais in one day!
In about a 30 to 40 minute train ride from Lisbon’s Rossio train station is the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sintra. It used to be the summer residence for Portuguese kings as it’s in the hills and is, therefore, cooler. If, like us, you are a bit pressed for time I’d recommend doing a tuk-tuk tour. As it’s a hillside town, it’s quite steep to walk to all the sights so getting a taxi, public transport or a tuk-tuk is recommended. It cost us €60 and we had it for around 2 to 2 and a half hours. Our guide was great too – he was local so had lots of local knowledge.
There really is a lot to see so don’t make the same mistake we did – dedicate a whole day to Sintra (we’re kicking ourselves for not doing this). We only got to see the town itself, the outside of the Castleo dos Mouros and Palacio Nacional da Pena from afar. The only place we did stop at and explore was Quinta da Regaleira, which was amazing!
Quinta da Regaleira is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known as “The Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire”, after its former owner Carvalho Monteiro. In 1892 Monteiro bought the estate from the Viscountess of Regaleira and enlisted Italian architect Luigi Manin to design the property, which takes influence from Roman, Gothic, Renaissance and Manueline architecture.
It’s really quite magical. There are towers, grottoes, fountains and even a stunning chapel. And of course the main house itself.
Our favourite part had to be the Initiation Well, which is like an underground tower. It was magnificent! There are actually two and even though they are wells, they were never used as a water source but were used for ceremonial purposes. One has a 27 meter spiral staircase.
Another really cool part of the gardens is the waterfall lake with its caves. You can walk across it on the stepping stones and under the waterfall. I chickened out as it was quite slippery so I didn’t walk across but my husband did.
How to get between Sintra and Cascais
Although there’s only 17km between them, unfortunately there is no direct train between Sintra and Cascais. There are two ways to get there – by bus or by car/taxi. We chose to go by taxi only because it was a while to wait for a bus and we were pressed for time. The taxi cost about €25 so quite an expensive journey.
There are two buses that you can take – the 403 and the 417, with the latter being the fastest route – taking 30 minutes. The 403 will take you about an hour, however it takes a much more scenic, coastal route. For more information about the buses, their routes and timetable, visit Cascais-Portugal.
Cascais is a very pretty coastal town and a lovely place to spend a day on the beach. We arrived at lunchtime so had lunch at Restaurante Mar do Inferno, which was recommended by our taxi driver. After lunch we took a look Boca do Inferno (Hell’s mouth), which is a chasm located in seaside cliffs.
We then walked along the sea to the small fishing town of Cascais and passed a couple of stunning swimming spots. I wished we’d brought our costumes!
Once you reach the main part of Cascais, just have a wander around the pedestrianised streets. The Hotel Bahía sits right on the main square so is a good place to have a drink and watch the world go by. There is also a 15th century fort not far from the main square, which you can visit.
There are quite a few shops as well as churches, however Cascais is mainly a popular beach destination so there is not loads to do. Look out for the lovely tiled buildings.
As it only takes 35 minutes from Lisbon’s Cais do Sodré station, Cascais gets very busy and the beaches are quite small. On our train back there were clearly lots of people from Lisbon who had just gone to the beach for the day. Another very pretty beach town to explore is Estoril, next to Cascais. We went years ago for a wedding.
Definitely don’t miss the chance to visit Sintra and Cascais but if you can only dedicate one day then I’d recommend spending it in Sintra as it’s so different to Lisbon and there’s lots to see. We will definitely be back and we’re planning on actually spending a night in Sintra at the 5 star Tivoli Palacio de Seteai. Watch this space!
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